A strong letter of recommendation can do a lot to help your application for admission or a scholarship stand out from the crowd. A great letter couched in lots of details that bring you to life for the committee can even be a force that helps override weaknesses elsewhere in your application. Getting a letter from someone who knows you well and can speak to your strengths with authenticity and heart goes a long way.
So how do you get such a letter? Let’s go through the steps.
Step 1: Make a List of Potential Recommenders
Before you can go any further, you need to decide who you will ask to write your letters of recommendation. Spend some time on this step. Consider teachers, mentors, and workplace supervisors. Avoid asking family members or peers.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you make your list:
• Who knows me well and has seen my work in a positive light?
• Who has seen me overcome obstacles?
• Who has encouraged and supported me through my educational journey?
• Who can speak to specific skills I mention in my application?
• Who can explain strengths that might not show up elsewhere?
Step 2: Ask for the Letter
Once you have your list, ask your potential recommenders if they’d be willing to write you a letter. You can ask in person, by phone, or via email. No matter the method, make sure that you are polite, clear in your request, and ready to take no for an answer.
Make sure you make your request well in advance of the deadline. Giving your recommender 3-5 weeks to submit their letter is a good guideline.
Be ready to provide necessary information. If you ask via email, put this information in the initial email. If you ask in person or via a phone call, be ready to provide this information as the conversation progresses:
• The program(s) to which you are applying
• The deadline for the recommendation
• The method for submission
You should also offer to provide supporting materials to make their work of writing the letter easier. Offer to provide a link to the program and an updated resume if they accept your request.
Step 3: Pay Attention to the Response
You want an enthusiastic letter of recommendation. If you sense any hesitation or misgivings from the potential recommender, back off.
A lukewarm or generic letter of recommendation can be damaging to your application. If you don’t feel you have the wholehearted support of the recommender, it’s best to move on and ask someone else.
Step 4: Follow Up if You Need To
Your recommenders will likely be busy people who have multiple demands on their time. At the same time, your letter of recommendation needs to be submitted in a timely manner to make sure your application is considered.
It’s okay to send a polite follow up as the deadline nears to ask if they need any other information from you as they complete the request.
Step 5: Thank Your Recommender
Don’t forget to thank your recommender for their time. If your application is successful, it can also be nice to let your recommender know. After all, they want you to succeed, and hearing your good news will likely make their day!